YOUNGSTOWN YMHA gets in just as door starts to shut

YOUNGSTOWN -- The city's housing authority barely sneaked in to grab nearly $20 million from a federal grant program that appears headed for extinction.
Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority will get its $19.75 million Hope VI grant announced Wednesday, said Donna White, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The grant will fund recreation and job-training centers, 200-some subsidized and market-rate homes and a youth golf center.
The money will come even if Congress agrees with President Bush and eliminates the program, White said.
"They have it; it's theirs," she said of YMHA. "That grant will still continue to move forward in the way the housing authority has planned. That money is coming no matter what happens."
The money awarded to YMHA probably is the second-to-last round of funding through Hope VI, White added.
President Bush's budget for the fiscal year starting in October doesn't include any funding for Hope VI. The program is the federal government's main redevelopment fund for housing authorities.
Another direction
HUD Secretary Mel Martinez supports the president's plan to eliminate the program. He recently told a U.S. Senate committee that it's time to explore other options to fund public housing.
Among the options is a 5-percent increase to the $2.2 billion block grant program for affordable housing.
The federal government has spent about $5 billion on Hope VI since 1992 with mixed results. Overall, 165 grants were awarded, but only 14 projects have been completed. Of the 85,000 projected housing units, 21,000 have been built.
Also, 115,000 public housing units have been torn down.
Productivity and efficiency aren't housing authority issues, said Eugenia C. Atkinson, the YMHA's executive director.
YMHA has done well with other federal improvement grants, she said. She pointed to the $13.6 million makeover at Rockford Village, the former Kimmel Brook Homes.
That recently completed project on the East Side turned 300 barracks-style units into 149 townhouses and 10 single-family homes.
"We demonstrated we can use the money correctly," she said.
YMHA already has razed 289 units at Westlake with a 1999 Hope VI grant to make way for the new development.
Readiness is one of several reasons YMHA won the grant, housing authority executives added.
Homework was done
It's hard to say which features made this application successful, said Mark Straub, YMHA director of development.
Among the reasons, he said:
* Razing already accomplished at Westlake.
* A project under way to improve the facades of remaining Westlake apartments along U.S. Route 422.
* A partnership with CHOICE Homes, a nonprofit agency, that will start construction soon on a senior citizen complex.
* The partnership with the First Tee organization to teach life skills through a youth golf center.
Each made the proposed community center and other housing seem plausible, Straub said.
"It made it real. That's important. It made it believable," he said.
YMHA's approach means work can start in six to eight months and finish within four years, Straub added.
Those partnerships were vital to winning the grant, said Carmelita Douglas, YMHA program planning and monitoring director.
The partnerships stretched from the city, Youngstown State University and St. Elizabeth Health Center to Westlake residents.
Residents suggested YMHA pursue a complex within the Hope VI area just for senior citizens, Douglas said. So, YMHA collaborated with CHOICE to build it.
Residents also suggested that youths needed a place within the development. Plans for the community center and the youth golf facility emerged from that, Douglas added.